The question is whether we will structure our consciousness or if someone else will.
Those who are least powerful and least rich are those whose consciousness is structured for them. “Stay tuned” they are told, and they do. They rely on popular media for information and entertainment. At work, they are given defined tasks and processes. They depend on others to direct their attention.
The middle class in this information economy have created some independence of thought at work and in leisure. What they think about at home is more likely to be related to their own lives, to their own family and hobbies, than to what the media defines for them. What they think about at work requires more problem-solving and task definition than is required of those who are paid less. Their consciousness is largely directed by their own personal goals and realities.
Finally, the rich and powerful are those who structure consciousness for others. They write the software that defines the processes used to work or even (nowadays) socialize. They write the books and screenplays that hold people’s attention and define conversations. Whether you are rich or poor in this information economy is at least partly determined by whether you structure consciousness for yourself or have it structured for you.
Ron Davison – The Fourth Economy: Inventing Western Civilization
Definition is the hardest and most valuable activity in both business and life.
Definition is difficult because both opportunity and opportunity cost are effectively infinite. I’m not sure if they’re truly infinite, but they’re so great that psychologically, they may as well be.
I notice when I’m working on clearly defined tasks that aren’t very valuable that it’s typically because they I’m avoiding the work of defining what to work on.
Jobs which requires the most definition are typically the highest paying – graphic design is much better paid than telemarketing. Commissioned sales people are the best paid – they’re paid directly based on their ability to define other people’s reality.
You know those days where you have a big problem and you keep circling around it and you can’t ever quite solve it?
In my experience, that’s a definition issue. Once a problem is clearly defined, it’s usually relatively easy to solve.
I was writing a marketing report this week and kept circling around and not getting anything done.
But as soon as I sat down and clearly defined it, it became a relatively trivial matter of execution. It should have 5 chapters with these titles. Each chapter should contain 3 sections. The book should end with a call to action.
Or was it so trivial?
How is it positioning the brand? What will someone’s experience be when they download it?
Who, specifically, is it written for? Is it someone that’s just about to buy or still researching?
I’m planning on using it as part of a cold email campaign and to download on Concierge Medicine Radio. So how do I write it so that it works in both those ecosystems? Or do I write two different versions?
What if I wrote one version for the cold email campaign and broke the chapters out into an autoresponder?
Or make the report pure information and put the takeaways and calls to action in the autoresponder?
What if… well, you see where this is going.
All of these have to be defined. So how do you define them?
How To Define A Problem:
There’s two options.
The first is to opt-out and not define them. Justy copy someone else.
In 99.9% of situations, that’s the right answer. You only have to define these questions if they’re questions. If you just pick someone else in a similar situation and do it like they did, then it’s just an execution issue and those are much easier to solve.
Defining .1% of your reality probably puts you in the top .1% of the population and that’s probably an over-estimation. Of their total day to day realities, I doubt Warren Buffet or Mark Zuckerberg define even a fraction of a percent.
There’s a reason every software start up has an identically designed landing page. They’re using a lot of brian juice on defining the software so there’s not a lot of brain juice left over to do the landing page.
The first element of definition is to choose very tightly what it is your are defining.
That’s ok though, because an incorrect definition is far more valuable that non-definition or ambiguity and if you copy something that worked in a similar situation, you’re probably close enough that it doesn’t matter.
If you can define something, even incorrectly, then you can either prove or disprove it for a specific reason and move forward with it.
Scheduling by email might be the most banal, yet frustrating example.
How terrible is it to get the “What times are good for you?” email?
You’re putting all the work of definition on me! Just define something!
“Tuesday at 2pm is the best time for me, but if that doesn’t work for you I’m free from 2pm-5pm on both Tuesday and Wednesday.” Thank God. You’ve defined something for me to work off of.
Once I just sat down and wrote the report, I realized why it wasn’t any good (bad formatting, preachy tone, and nothing actionable) and then it got easier to fix.
Of course, a solution to each of those had to be defined and solved by roughly the same process which is the second option – scope down.
As problems get more discrete, definition gets easier.
Large problems lend themselves to inaction because they are so poorly defined.
So while definition is valuable and you should always be stretching to increase the scope of what you’re defining, when you notice yourself stalling, either scope down or copy. Over time your ability to define larger and larger problems improves.
It’s not an incorrect definition, but a lack of definition that’s dangerous to progress.
People that are poor at definition are often miscategorized as being poor executors or lazy.
Most people I know that have problems with execution actually don’t have problems with execution at all, they have problems with definition.
If they set themselves to a very clearly defined task, it’s relatively trivial from them to get it done.
Whenever I feel like I’m not making progress or having trouble with execution, it’s almost always an issue of definition.
A lot of companies are successful not because they have a particularly good idea or are any more capable than competitors but simply because they have a particularly clear definition and they stick to it.
A clear, albeit poor definition is tangible and something people can grab onto. Even the most powerful people are structuring only a fraction of a percent of their total reality so they latch onto other people’s definitions.
Survival doesn’t particularly care about “right,” it cares about getting things done and the shortest route to getting things done is to define them.
Definition is the hardest and most valuable activity in business and life. (See what I did there?)
If in doubt, just define it. Define it wrong. As long as you’re defining it, you’re moving forward.
Last Updated on July 30, 2019 by Taylor Pearson
Damn! Great post Taylor! And very timely.
“Whenever I feel like I’m not making progress or having trouble with execution, it’s almost always an issue of definition.”
This pretty much captures what I’ve been struggling with for the last while.
And I think your solution is on the point as well: the best you can do is define based on the information you have at the moment. With that definition, you can move forward & if you gather new information, then you can adjust accordingly.
Taylor Pearson says
I frequently tell myself “Just keep going” when I’m stuck in a definition problem. Most decisions are arbitrary and most that aren’t are reversible so you might as well just define it and keep going.
Chiara Cokieng says
Thanks Taylor. Love the part about problems with execution.
This reminds me the book, 5 elements of effective thinking. They recommend intentionally defining something wrong first, so you have something to work off of. Just like you mention here. I think you’ll like it: http://sivers.org/book/EffectiveThinking
Taylor Pearson says
Thanks Chiara, added to my list!
Joseph Hughes says
Another great post, Taylor. A related thought – in a business perspective, I think one of most valuable things about a regular mastermind group is that it forces you to define and redefine your business and/or projects on a regular basis. One of my groups meets every 2 weeks, which forces us to verbalize our current position, where we are, frame our goals, etc. Without that regular check-up and discussion and re-defining my business (and how it fits into my life), I definitely wouldn’t be as far along as I am right now.
I haven’t really adopted this defining thing to problems and execution, as you outline. But going to start working this into the problem-solving framework now. Thanks!
Taylor Pearson says
100% agree on masterminds and had never thought about it from that angle.
I think there’s lots of rituals/organizations like masterminds that have tons of upside built into them that we can’t really explain. The longer I stay in masterminds, the more nuggets of value I find that I never expected.
Ronan Leonard says
Totally agree. We all need some kind of support and guidance. Business owners that continue to work in isolation are not as productive or effective as when they are in some kind of Mastermind or support group or coaching.
Taylor L says
Wow, great post! I’ve never really viewed my lack of progression as lack of definition, but that makes perfect sense. Thanks, this helps a lot!
Taylor Pearson says
Thanks, glad it helped!
“I notice when I’m working on clearly defined tasks that aren’t very valuable that it’s typically because they I’m avoiding the work of defining what to work on.” — isn’t this the truth.
Taylor Pearson says
haha, it is for me!
Boykie Mackay says
Very timely post. I was just reviewing my goals for the last quarter and preparing for the next quarter. As I did a ‘post-mortem’ on the reason’s why I failed on some of the ‘big rocks’ I had planned for the last quarter it became apparent to me it was due to a lack of clarity on what I needed to focus on. Reading this post makes it clear in my mind that lack of clarity and lack of definition are more or less the same thing!